Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skilled Builder Crafts Weapons Using Talent, Rich Knowledge; Fort King George's Blacksmith Brings the Past Back to Life

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skilled Builder Crafts Weapons Using Talent, Rich Knowledge; Fort King George's Blacksmith Brings the Past Back to Life

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

DARIEN - Brad Spear has a lot of fire power and it's mostly handmade.

A craftsman at Fort King George State Historic Site for nearly nine years, Spear has become an expert on historic weapons. If he can't find them, he makes them.

In his collection are replicas of handguns dating to 1250.

"It's a barrel on a stick," he said of a gun that has no trigger, hammer or firing pin. The user of such a gun simply loaded it with black powder, dropped the appropriate size rock or hammered piece of metal down the barrel, pointed it and touched it off with a burning lighter.

Although long bows of the period were more accurate, bows and arrows took years of practice compared to the 30 minutes or so for those primitive guns, Spear said.

He also has a 1740-era grenade launcher, a blunderbuss, an 18th century hunting sword pistol and a rocket launcher.

For those who worry about the influence of toy guns on children, Spear can tell you they've been around a long time. He built a replica of an 18th century toy pistol that fires a BB-size projectile that would be tamped down with a toothpick-size ramrod.

"It's .117 caliber," he said.

For all his rifles, pistols, swords and bows, the weapons were a necessary prop for Spear's hobby of historic re-enacting, which he began in 1974 in the lead-up to the nation's bicentennial celebration.

"I got into it to make the things I needed in re-enacting," he said.

And he had the tools to do it. Spear has been a blacksmith for 35 years and for 10 years worked as a blacksmith in a tabby smithy he built by hand in the Spanish Quarters in historic St. Augustine. He built items to sell in the museum store and gave demonstrations.

Spear's first day on the job at Fort King George was July 4, 2007, when he, Steven Smith and other site staff fired the cannons for visitors.

The fort bought its reproduction muskets, but Spear built all the carriages for the cannons and a hand-powered crane like those used in Colonial times to lift cannons, said Smith, who is now the site manager.

In addition to providing black powder training, Spear gives talks on the history of weapons. …

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